In his new book, Normandy Crucible: The Decisive Battle That Shaped World War II in Europe (NAL Caliber, $25.95), MHQ contributor John Prados writes about Operation Cobra, the July 1944 offensive by General Omar Bradley’s First Army to break through German defenses after D-Day. Bad weather forced Royal Air Force chief marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory to postpone the air strike that would kick off the offensive, but his order came too late, with disastrous results.
Only the medium bombers could be stopped before they left. Frantic efforts to recall the other formations followed. Second-wave fighter-bombers got the notice and turned back. But three air groups of the first wave—as well as almost 400 heavy bombers—attacked as planned. They flew in from the north, missed the markers designating U.S. positions and—safety zone or no—dropped their bombs on Americans….
General Bradley, with Leigh-Mallory and others at headquarters in Pont-Hébert, a town east of the bomb zone, was frustrated at the continuing obstacles to mounting their blow. They realized something had gone very wrong when whole squadrons of P-47 fighter-bombers started to fly over them and pound the Cobra zone. Bradley’s aide Major Charles Hansen, remembering a tragic friendly bombing incident from the North African campaign, got a queasy feeling. Then came news of an artillery unit hit at Hauts Vents, behind them and some miles from the strike area. Suddenly eight fighter planes peeled off and attacked Pont-Hébert itself. Everyone ran for cover. Bombs landed only a few hundred yards away. Five GIs were killed when one struck a nearby ammunition truck, igniting a massive explosion…. One officer cut his hand on glass. A general peed in his pants.